Come 2017, Michael Kimmel will help graduate students get in touch with their masculine side.
Kimmel, a veteran sociologist and professor at Stony Brook University, is taking his decades of research into what it means to be a man and converting it into the first full-fledged Master’s program at Stony Brook’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.
The move follows a swelling interest in gender studies, Kimmel tells Tech Insider, which has traditionally been synonymous with “women’s studies.”
But amid the changing tide of gender roles, the experience of being male is also morphing into something completely new and rarely discussed.
For academics, that means it’s a topic worth studying.
“We’re living in a culture that’s saturated with questions about gender and masculinity,” says Kimmel, who founded the Center in 2013.
Among them: What does a “real man” look like? Do those qualities also make you a “good man”? Who says?
Our grandfathers almost certainly grew up with different ideas about what it means to be a man than our fathers did, Kimmel says. “I grew up thinking my world would look like Don Draper’s world, and it looks nothing like that.”
And today’s young men, having lived through landmark stories like Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation and the legalization of gay marriage, are learning different lessons still about navigating a social world in which gender and sexuality are up for grabs.
Men can become stay-at-home dads, admit to knowing nothing about cars, enjoy baking, and still command respect from other men. The old-world values we once held sacred are falling to ideals rooted in fairness and equality.
It only makes sense that formal education should follow those cultural shifts.
When it launches in two years, the new program will cover a breadth of topics related to the experience of being male. Kimmel says each semester students will take about six courses, some as electives and some required.
Students will discuss issues of masculinity across time periods, cultures, socioeconomic groups, and countries. There will be courses on the stigma of mental illness for men, how masculinity is depicted in popular culture, and how we define fatherhood.
From television and movies, to news media, to the “voluminous literature” on the subject, Kimmel says the courses will have no shortage of fodder for discussion. He himself has written 15 books dealing with masculinity, some of which are bound to show up in the curriculum.
The program follows in the footsteps of the so-called Men’s Movement and mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, in which books like “Iron John” by the poet Robert Bly attempted to understand the nature of masculinity.
Kimmel acknowledges starting a “masculinities studies” program is bound to ruffle some feathers. It’s easy, after all, to assume teaching about majority groups is somehow an endorsement of their prominence. But Kimmel doesn’t see it that way. He’s starting “masculinities studies,” not “men’s studies.”
“We want to make the study of masculinity specific within the frameworks that have already been worked out by gender studies,” he says.
He equates the difference to teaching a program on “white studies” versus “whiteness studies.” The first suggests a critical look at the plight and triumphs of whites, similar to the way women’s studies are taught. The second is a more holistic analysis of the experience of being white, which necessarily includes a look at the privileges that come with it.
With time, Kimmel hopes the program can become a positive model for other institutions to adopt.
“Most people who major in gender studies don’t get the opportunity to take specific courses on masculinity, just because there’s not enough people teaching it yet,” he says. “I hope we’re able to give them something that’s valuable to them, in terms of their careers and in terms of expanding their understanding.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.